LEWISTON – The Twin Cities are category-busters when it comes to public transportation.

Despite being the second largest population center in Maine and the biggest service center for miles around, it’s still considered rural.

“And being rural is beautiful, if you can get around,” said Marsha Bennett, transit coordinator for the Lewiston-Auburn Transit Committee.

Getting around is a problem for some, according to Bennett and other transportation service providers on a panel Wednesday.

Bennett joined representatives from Community Concepts and Western Maine Transportation to discuss what they do with other community service groups, such as Lewiston Adult Education and Catholic Charities Maine.

The goal was to find ways to help the disabled, poor and elderly in Lewiston-Auburn get around better.

Obstacles included rising gasoline prices, language barriers and service to the disabled. Just getting service to people is tough with a limited bus system.

Currently, LATC’s citylink bus system has routes running on all of the major streets. That’s standard practice for most urban bus systems.

“If you’re a quarter-mile off of a bus route, that’s considered having service,” Bennett said.

That leaves some important places without ready service – including the Lewiston Multi-Purpose Center and the B Street Community Center, where panelists met Wednesday. Those stops are on side roads, away from the main city streets.

“There just isn’t the demand on those side streets,” Bennett said. “It’s tough to just travel up and down a side street if you’re going to get five passengers all day.”

The economy is a big hurdle for demand-based systems such as Community Concepts. Wayne Van Blood, transportation director, said he relies on a network of 300 or so volunteer drivers who cart people around to doctors’ offices, homeless shelters and day-care centers. Community Concepts pays those drivers 30 cents a mile for their efforts.

“But we’re afraid we’re going to lose drivers as gas prices go up,” Blood said.

The discussion was organized by Brandon Copeland, an AmeriCorps volunteer working with Bennett, the LATC and the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments. Copeland said he hoped the people who came Wednesday would continue working together.

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